Refugee activists slam aggressive police tactics

Outside Maribyrnong detention centre, May 29. Photo: Timothy Lawson

Two men were taken to hospital and a third treated at the scene after being injured during a confrontation with police at a refugee rights protest at the Maribyrnong detention centre on May 29.

The conflict took place during a pre-arranged peaceful protest organised by an alliance of refugee support groups and left-wing political groups.

The protesters converged outside the Maribrynong detention centre armed with placards with slogans such as “Free the Refugees” and “Seeking Asylum is not a Crime”.

The protesters marched to the Highpoint shopping centre, where they heard speeches on Australian immigration policy and somber accounts of their experiences visiting Australian detention centres.

One protester, Mark Leaman, was injured when a mounted police officer charged at him.

Leaman said: “I was standing there protesting, non-violently; then a mounted police officer bolted forward towards me hitting me in the head, it was completely unprovoked,” Mark Leaman said.

“I had a concussion and a large bandage was applied to my head at the scene.”

Another two protesters were taken to hospital after being severely injured when mounted police trampled them.

Monash Refugee Action Collective (MRAC) member Rebecca Winter said: “The police were pushing people off the road with their horses; four people with arms locked were pushed sideways and trampled.

“The mounted officer accused of trampling the protesters, leading senior constable K. Knowles, was described by many protesters as overly aggressive.”

Winter said police informed her that an ambulance would not be allowed in to treat the injured protesters until the gathering had dispersed.

Daniella Olea, a protest organisers, said: “The police provocation and violence was completely uncalled for. They were aware of the route of the march as I myself liaised with the sergeant in charge.

“We were on the side of the road suggested by police and we had marshals on site directing people on the agreed route to Highpoint Shopping Centre. The police were fully aware of our intentions to march.

“The excessive intimidating presence of police on horseback, police dogs and riot police shows unnecessary force against people expressing their concerns and their right to protest.”

A senior constable also received minor injuries and sought medical attention after the incident.

MRAC activist Eric Maher said: “There were at least eight mounted police and another 50 regular officers as well as four attack dogs.”

Maher said police were advised of the protest in advance and that certain conditions regarding which parts of the road could be used became a contentious issue.

The Victorian Police media unit said on protester was arrested for assaulting a police horse (the man is purported to have punched the horse). He was released pending a summons in relation to hindering police and assaulting police.

The police media unit said that there were 70 protesters. Many of the protesters Green Left Weekly spoke with said that there were at least 100 protesters and probably closer to 200.

Inspector Tony Long of Victoria Police said that a horse fell as police tried to arrest a protester. “In trying to move forward into the area where the police were arresting one of the protesters, they've come in too close,” he said.

A statement from Victoria Police issued to the protest organisers said: “Police will adopt a pro-prosecution policy for offences against the person or against property."


We are a nation of refugees. All genuine asylum seekers are welcome! We need more action on this issue and more coverage. It's great to see GLW covering these protests.
So how many per year should we take in then? Anyone who comes?